Coaster Kingdom

Dragon's Fury, Chessington World of Adventures
Saturday, February 24, 2007

The legend of St. George has it that a pagan town in Libya was terrorised by a dragon, and as the mutton it fed on waned, citizens were sacrificed in order to control the dragon and supplement its irrepressible diet. Hearing of the impending fate of a local princess, Saint George went to her aid, succeeding where armies had failed in slaughtering the flame-throwing serpent and saving the fair maiden.

Dragons have played an important part in the cultural heritage of mythology the world over, just as dragons have been prevalent in the heritage of Chessington World of Adventures, too. But Chessington wasn't saved from a dragon; it was saved by a dragon - it was just that this dragon came in the form of a Maurer Sohne spinning roller coaster.

Now, spinning coasters aren't particularly new. One of the most famous spinning roller coasters of recent times is Star World (formerly Magic Mountain) that tours the German fairs. This was a custom made ride featuring a long train of egg-shaped cars free to spin throughout the enclosed ride.

But even before Star World, the Virginia Reel was a popular ride at parks like Pleasure Beach Blackpool featuring a zig zag on the side of a fake mountain which would spin the tub like cars before they'd drop through a series of turns into tunnels.

A more modern comparison to the Virginia Reel is the popular spinning coaster from Reverchon. With a course based on the popular Wild Mouse with unbanked sharp hairpin turns and abrupt drops, the ride features Waltzer-like cars which upon reaching the second level of the ride would be free to spin.

Whilst not the best example of a spinning coaster, the Reverchon model did seem to be the catalyst in the recent explosion of spinning coasters. Since the ride debuted at Foire Du Trone, Reverchon has sold over thirty of the units globally, including a pair to Disneyworld, Florida.

Since the success of this ride, other manufacturers including Gerstauler and Maurer Sohne have since profited from the idea of rotary roller coasters, refining the idea to include new elements. Whilst Maurer started off with the pocket-sized X2000 coaster, it included new elements such as a spectacular immelman turn, a vertically banked horseshoe of steel galloping skywards.

Maurer successfully dabbled in the idea of custom spinners in 2002 with Winjas, two unique roller coasters featuring not only the celebrated immelman turn, but vertical lifts, see-saws and falling track effects.

Tussauds decided to purchase two of these custom spinners in 2002; one for Alton Towers (Spinball Whizzer), and one for Chessington. Both resisted the urge for supplemental extras such as see-saws, but both would be custom, and both advertised heavily as being family coasters.

From head to tail, Dragon's Fury is a 1771ft meander of forest green track supported by a forest of ruby-red supports surrounding the entire new area for 2004; Land of the Dragons. Sprawling across many acres of land, further compounded by the fact that the entrance is actually outside Land of the Dragons, it is no surprise that infrequent visitors often have a quest on their hands to find the entrance.

Once found, however, there is no avoiding the unmistakable signature of Tussauds, where the coaster is presented in quite explicit detail as it performs its spectacular aerial dogfight high above you.

Like a fireball falling from the sky, a four seater car topples over the top of a 60ft tall lift hill, plunging towards the pathway below, scraping past the ground before sharply pulling up into a vertical (by Oblivion's yardstick) immelman turn before disappearing out of view. This is an opening sequence few family coasters can boast.

The entrance is a small hamlet of buildings and archways serving various purposes such as photo collection, Fastrack ticket collection as well as the two entrances to the ride, all decorated with crumbling stone pillars and dragon head gargoyles.

Adding flair to an already enchanting entrance area, 'Claudius', an animatronic dragon infrequently rears his head from a cave to the left of the entrance, threatening children who dare touch the treasure he's guarding with a deep roar and an animatronically angsty gesticulation of his outstretched noggin.

The queue meanders through a forest of charred trees through a fairly mind-numbing zig-zag in front of the station. The queue isn't great, it has to be said, but it is good to see Chessington's humour, however bad, making a simple no smoking request a bit more interesting;

"What did the big dragon say to the little dragon? You're too young to smoke"

[token pause for laughter to fade]

Before you enter the station, you're counted up into groups of four, pairing up pairs and adding single riders into the mix as necessary. This means that once in the station, delays are kept to a minimum as every car is filled to capacity.

So that Dragon's Fury can efficiently gobble up the queue (all part of a balanced diet), the cars don't stop in the station, instead slowing down to a crawl. As well as keeping the cars moving through the station, this also has the psychological benefit of adding a sense of urgency to the loading procedure meaning people get into the trains with far less hesitation than on other comparable rides.

Riders sit in pairs, back to back with comfortable lap bars and an O-shaped grab handle which you can hold almost like handlebars on a racing bike.

And so this reign of fire begins by climbing a startlingly quick lift hill. Get ready to savour every moment of what's forthcoming, as it'll be over in half a jiffy. Forward-sitting riders only are privy to knowing when your car will crest the top of the lift - a hint to back seat riders; it's sooner than you think. Without hesitation, the car curls around to the side, falls from orbit down a steep drop and buries itself down into the ground before sensationally pulling up into a vertical climb, turning around a wonderful 180-degree turn on its side before plunging vertically back down towards the ground.

A straight climb straightens out into a mid-course brake run. Virtually unhindered, the train drops straight down, climbing back up and abruptly turning a 90-degree left-hand turn into another set of brakes.

Once again, the brakes offer no break in pacing as the train threads itself through a forest of treehouses and rope bridges through a downward spiral, pulling up into a dreamy camelback hill arching high over Griffin's Galleon (Zierer Kontiki), swooping through a left-hand curve, climbing into another set of brakes.

Untamed, this beast spirals groundwards through a heavily banked downward helix, swooping out into a shallow mid-course lift hill. As this dragon makes a bid for the sky once again, your car still turns before you slalom at roof height through an undulating S-turn, dropping down between a hedge and the back of a building, bouncing abruptly up through a fairly fruitless double up, passing through the last set of mid-course brakes before slaloming down through a final banked S-turn and into the final brakes.

With a final whip of its tail, a comically rudimentary system of a 10ft long bar thumps the side of the car whilst it passes through the brakes in order to tame the spinning and lock the car so that it can snugly fit back into the station.

So is Dragon's Fury hot stuff, or does it just blow hot air?

Fury is without a doubt red-hot.

For years now Chessington have been trying to tell us they're a family park as if this was justification for years of neglect and under investment. Since then, Hocus Pocus Hall opened, which, as enchanting as it is, hardly sent waves through the amusement industry.

Dragon's Fury accompanies Land of the Dragons, an area for younger rapscallions including Griffin's Galleon (Zierer Kontiki), Sea Dragons (small round ride) as well as numerous play areas.

However, Dragon's Fury is specifically marketed as a family coaster. Traditionally, only Disney can design a good family coaster with any exceptions being accidental as opposed to calculated. With parks being offered a greater choice of family rides by manufacturers, they are now in a better position than ever to offer a ride with true universal appeal as opposed to palming off hand-me-down kids coasters as a 'family ride'.

In an age where in terms of roller coasters bigger is better, it is easy to become fazed and actually forget that theme parks are for. They're not supposed to be endurance tests, they're just supposed to be fun. Although the feeling of taking on a coaster and conquering it is often gratifying, it is often refreshing to come off a coaster grinning from ear to ear.

It is this sensation that broadens the appeal of a roller coaster - even the best white knuckle coaster in the world couldn't satisfy as many people as the best family coaster.

Dragon's Fury bore the heavy responsibility of becoming the park's first new signature ride since Vampire as the theme park headed into a new era. It took on this challenge and won.

Even ignoring the objective of this ride, you're left with a ride that is a pure placebo. Children have the feeling of having conquered a major coaster, whilst parents enjoy a ride that is just great fun.

Highlights are in abundance. The way the ride goes off almost exploring Land of the Dragons is inspired, and the ride features one of the best opening sequences that can be asked of it dropping down a steeply banked drop into a sensational immalman turn. Even escaping the gaze of voyeurs on the ground, the ride continues through a wonderful bunnyhop and two excellent helices.

The midcourse lift is actually not too much of an intrusion at all, and actually encourages some of the most pronounced spinning in the ride, as does the roof-top meander following.

The double up is, quite frankly, ineffective, but the swooping s-turn into the final brakes is a good way to finish, if not up to the standard the rest of the ride has set.

Nevertheless, the ride is explosive from start to finish without having too much bite for younger explorers. Dragon's Fury will undoubtedly have an indelible effect on Chessington, and if Fury is indicative of the direction Tussauds want to take the park, then I welcome this change with open arms.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • A true family coaster - can be a challenge for younger kids but keeps parents and teens entertained
  • Capacity is adequate, and the queue moves at a reasonable pace, if not fast

Bad points:

  • Although a family ride, the car design has groups of four back-to-back limiting rider interaction
  • Dragon's Fury has quite lazy theming - what there is is fine, but the detail has been scrimped upon

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